In conversation: Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran
As part of the APEX/IFSA EXPO thought leadership sessions, Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran sat down for an interview with BBC Worldwide presenter Aaron Heslehurst. Here are some of the highlights:
Greg Foran had a baptism of fire as an airline CEO, joining just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting to affect air travel in February 2020.
By late March 2020, the whole of New Zealand was in lockdown and all Air New Zealand was doing at that point was “flying some cargo and repatriating Kiwis who wanted to come back. And by and large, with the exception of some domestic business…we didn’t really open up until the 14th of April this year.”
Though Greg Foran says “it wasn’t in the job description, as I now reflect on it, it’s been the greatest learning and the greatest opportunity.”
The reason is that it’s “a completely new abnormal. Customers are not looking for things to come back exactly as they were, or expecting them to.” As a result, Greg Foran says the airline industry has the chance to have a complete rethink about everything from the customer experience to fleets to networks.
“Show a bit of swagger”
Greg Foran and Aaron Heslehurst spent some time talking about the new Auckland to New York route, the fourth longest in the world. According to Greg Foran, this route is showing “great demand.”
Greg Foran admitted it was ambitious, but “why not put a bit of ambition out there, why not show a bit of swagger. Everyone needs a bit of ambition, all organizations need it. In the moment we knew we could do it, we said give it a go, and that’s the swagger.”
A big innovation in terms of passenger experience is the ‘Skynest’, due to be introduced in 2024.
With many of Air New Zealand’s long haul routes leaving at night or in the evening, Greg Foran said, “we know that for our customers, the most important thing is being able to sleep.”
As a result, the current Skycouches, three economy seats that you can convert effectively into a bed, constantly sell out. Greg Foran says you often see families taking two Skycouches “and they have a fantastic sleep.”
The Skynest takes it a step further, “so you can imagine now six bunks”, which you can book ahead of time for perhaps 4-5 hours. Or if they haven’t all been used, you could even book it while on the flight.
Using electric aircraft like an Uber
Earlier, Greg Foran had spoken in favor of the new APEX/IFSA sustainable supplier initiative in the board of governors vote. In the interview, he expanded on the sustainability factor.
He started by pointing out that “applying solutions to all countries around the world and assuming that everything is the same is a bit naive”, when what happens in two different places is often completely different.
As a result, sustainability in Europe, “is quite different to what happens in New Zealand where there really isn’t a rail network. You are not talking massive roading networks.” Hence, flying is often the only realistic option when covering large distances across the country.
So how does Air New Zealand deal with the limitations of geography and infrastructure? “We have got to be serious about the options we see in front of us at the moment.”
For long haul, the options are sustainable aviation fuel, and there the price and quantity issue needs to be resolved.
But for the shorter routes, “let’s get really curious, and move the pace with electric, hybrid or green hydrogen electric airplanes.”
Of course, electric or hybrid-electric aircraft won’t be able to carry 100+ passengers, so Greg Foran raised the solution of instead running smaller electric or hybrid electric aircraft as a high frequency shuttle on shorter routes. You could even be “thinking about it like an Uber. It’s basically just shuttling backwards and forwards between Hamilton and Auckland and it’s maybe going every 30 minutes and you just turn up and pay for it when you get on the plane. Why not?”
We’ll be covering more of the APEX/IFSA thought leadership sessions over the coming days, be sure to also take a look at pictures from the day on our Twitter feed.